Josh Way: a Life in Dance

On the right body, the expressive activity known as dance can be moving, exciting, even transcendent. On the wrong body, dance can be an instrument of abject horror, an unrelenting reminder that man is fallen and mortal. I’d like to suggest, and I don’t expect a great deal of dissent, that my body is the wrong body for such an activity.

And yet in spite of my self-awareness in this area, I have through the course of my life encountered scenarios in which I have been obligated to dance, often publicly. To anyone ill-fated enough to have witnessed one of these brief but damaging incidents, I offer my deepest apologies. You have my word that I am doing more than ever to ensure it will never happen again.

In the interest of full disclosure, I offer this, the first in a series of painfully thorough recollections.

Senior Prom: the Horror Begins (or Prom ’93: the Dancening)

Through a clever mixture of social awkwardness and ill-fitting clothing, I had completely avoided the topic of dancing for seventeen years. All I had to do was show up at school, and voila: nobody asked me to dance. But senior year was different. I had a girlfriend now. Previously inapplicable events such as prom were now perfunctory, and so therefore was dancing

So new was I to the world of organized mass romantic socialization that I had given little thought to the dancing aspect of it until it was far too late. What with corsages to buy, an ill-fitting tuxedo to climb into, and the bewildering task of escorting a female human to a public happening, the bump and grind of the dance floor was the last thing on my mind.

The evening arrived. There I was, fiddling feverishly with the loose string of plastic molding on the bottom of my empty catering cup, occasionally glancing up at Karen with a pained smile that said “I am so, so sorry.” Suddenly, we were caught up in the momentum of a tall and mighty wave. Only this was not the good kind of tall and mighty wave, like Hunter Thompson wrote about. This was a tall and mighty wave of hormonally souped-up teenagers converging on a dance floor like vultures on a cold battlefield. Next thing I knew we were out of our seats, dead center on the hardwood dance platform, with no clear path to the exits.

Karen, to her credit, was not an avid dancer. She seemed actually like she might have been feigning her way through it. Girls, however, seem to be built for such tasks as feigned dancing, as they look pleasant and natural moving in a variety of ways. I had no such resources, and faced with the truth that the only thing worse than dancing badly at a high school dance is not dancing at all, I gave my limbs permission to begin moving. 

It’s a strange sensation when you don’t know what your body is doing until you observe it during or after the fact. This was my experience dancing that muggy June evening. To call what I was engaged in “dancing” is indeed a stretch. Yes I was moving my body, and yes it was all happening on a dance floor, but there end the parallels. As I understand it, conviction of feeling and orchestrated movement are also requisites of this art form, and of these I was seriously deficient.

I’ve often thanked fate that I was unable to see myself that night, but according to the faces of those around me it was fairly ghastly. My arms flailed as though swatting at some giant insect, while my legs shuffled anxiously as legs arrested by some palsy. I imagined my appearance as somewhere inbetween a slow-motion crash-test dummy and a novelty drinking bird.

Whatever I looked like, it was seriously upsetting everyone around me. And underneath the pounding rhythms of C+C Music Factory, I swear I heard a young woman weeping. As is my impulse in embarrassing public situations, I attempted to cover my shame with humor. I dropped to the floor, tucked my legs up behind my head, and asked a nearby chum to spin me around. Before too long, my classmates were cheering and tossing quarters at me. I wish to heaven this part of the story weren’t absolutely true.

As for Karen, I understand she started speaking again last fall. 

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